It rained and stormed in New York. Businessman Alan Kaufman sat in a cafe and watched passers-by struggle with their umbrellas. He thought of the workers who went about their business outside and could only protect themselves against the rain with a jacket. Then an idea came to him, Kaufman says on his YouTube channel: an umbrella that you could attach to your shoulders like a backpack – so you don’t need your hands for it.
Not everyone would have had the same idea on that rainy day in New York. Because that requires creativity. In Germany, however, according to a survey published in 2014 by the British market research institute Enders Analysis on behalf of Bertelsmann, 30 percent of all participants from Germany consider themselves uncreative.
At the same time, creativity is more important today than ever before, says Joachim Funke. He is a psychology professor at Heidelberg University and researches creativity. “I have the impression that we are facing ever greater problems: climate change, for example. But apparently our creativity is not yet sufficient to find solutions. ”So becoming more creative could help mankind with the big problems.
Bad circumstances favor ideas
“However, that is not enough with a weekend workshop,” he says. These training programs promise to give you lots of new ideas in a short time. “I’m skeptical about that. If you look at really creative people, they are not the ones who have participated in such training courses. ”In addition, studies have shown only short-term positive effects of such workshops – but no long-term success.
Creativity, as Funke explains, is not a skill such as cycling, for example, that gets better with practice, but an attitude: Those who go through the world with open eyes can produce new things that are useful in some way. And that’s what is called creativity in psychology. It is less important whether this results in an innovation of social importance, such as the use of solar energy to generate electricity, or a product with everyday relevance, such as a new type of umbrella.
But almost all creative ideas have one thing in common, explains Funke: “For me, creativity always begins when we have a problem and think about how we can solve it. Particularly bad circumstances can therefore favor creative ideas. ”For example, the Trabant, the only car produced in the GDR, was equipped with a plastic panel because there was a lack of the steel normally required.
Creativity is not done with an idea – it is a process
On that rainy day in New York, Alan Kaufman was also looking for a solution to the problem he had encountered: How can people protect themselves from the rain who need both hands for other purposes? In the period that followed, he commissioned product designers and engineers to develop the umbrella he had in mind. A year and six prototypes later, the final draft of his umbrella, named Nubrella, was ready, he says on request. “That is typical of a creative process,” says Funke. “The problem is followed by the generation of the solution. If the first attempt fails, improvements are made – until the product is finished. “
So far, what happens in the brain is largely a mystery. Radwa Khalil, a neuroscientist at Jacobs University Bremen, is trying to solve it. For her, creativity is one of the most important human qualities: “It gives us a unique character. She is the best we have. If we did not have them, machines could do what we do. But people’s creativity is unique and cannot be replaced. ”
But while creativity appears to be essential, little is known about its biological basis. Khalil explains what she knows so far: “When we are creative, our nerve cells in the brain fire: They communicate – just like in other activities.” In her creativity, however, the balance between excitation and impulse control is particularly important recent study notes.
In this way, creative ideas can arise especially when we suppress automatic thoughts and thus leave our usual thought paths. One day, Khalil hopes, she will know exactly where creativity can be located in our brain and what exactly happens there: “The better we understand creativity neurobiologically, the more targeted it can be promoted.”
4 ways lead to increase your own creativity
In psychology we already know some components that we can influence in order to improve our creativity. Funke explains:
The personal component
Personality plays a decisive role in creativity: openness and curiosity are important requirements. If you want to be more creative, you should consider how you look at the world: If you are afraid, it is more difficult to be creative. But if you manage, for example, to choose a new way to work every day and discover new things in the process, this can promote creativity.
The motivational component
To be creative you need a high level of motivation. And that doesn’t mean external incentives like money or recognition. What is important is that motivation that comes from yourself. So it helps to find an area that you are passionate about.
The cognitive component
Creativity often breaks the rules. It is therefore important to acquire knowledge and to know the prevailing conventions in order to be able to violate them in a targeted manner. At the same time, however, it is not necessary to break all the rules: Discipline, for example, can also support the creative process.
The social component
On the one hand, creative people need friends and sponsors who are interested in the same topics. On the other hand, they have to set themselves apart from those who think differently: “We have a lot of skeptics around us, you have to ignore that,” says Funke. You should be absolutely convinced of your own idea in order not to be bothered by criticism from others. Self-criticism, on the other hand, is permissible and can even help to improve the result.
Nubrella inventor Alan Kaufman seems to heed these recommendations: Since his first idea more than ten years ago, he has continuously developed his umbrella. Kaufman is also currently working on a new design. In the meantime, his umbrella is no longer just used as rain protection, but also as protection from the sun. He still hopes to use it to build one of the largest weather protection brands.
“The idea is useful and he firmly believed from the start that it would revolutionize the world with it,” commented Funke Kaufman’s creative process. “And yet most of them still carry their umbrella in their hand.” But that doesn’t stop Kaufman from believing in his idea.